We are accustomed to seeing our presidents inaugurated in January every four years. The first time we inaugurated a president was a little different. George Washington was inaugurated as first president of the United States on April 30, 1789.
Like any other startup organization, we had a little slippage getting off the ground. We got our Constitution completed in September 1787 but it needed ratification by the states. Evidently agreement wasn’t any easier to achieve in 1787 than it is today. There were apparently pretty fierce fights in some states about ratifying the Constitution. There were even changes to the whole process to allow the Constitution to be ratified by only nine states. As you may remember, we had 13 at the time.
On July 2, 1788 New Hampshire told the Continental Congress that it had ratified the Constitution. At that point, the Congress began to discuss how the new government would be created. Congress finally agreed on New York City and they developed a timeline for the installation of the new government. Each state could select its own electors and February 4, 1789 was the date designated for the electors to meet and cast their votes. They did meet on that day and 69 electoral hours cast their ballots unanimously for George Washington.
Our new government officially came into existence on March 4, 1789. Washington had evidently returned to Virginia and they had to send him word that he had been elected president. Evidently he needed to settle his affairs in Virginia and had to borrow money to pay off his debts there before he went to New York to take up his new duties. He likely arrived sometime before April 30, but there must have been a need for some ceremony.
George Washington came across the Hudson River on April 30, 1789 on a specially built and decorated barge. He was met by a large crowd and they proceeded to Federal Hall on Wall Street where he took the oath of office on the balcony. The president’s inaugural address was delivered to Congress in Federal Hall. There was a celebration afterwards that was opened with 13 skyrockets and 13 cannons shots; the evening closed with the same celebrations.
One of the early concerns of people in our nation was that a leadership position might transform into a hereditary position – like a King. Washington is sometimes credited with having turned down offers – or suggestions – that he become King, but there seems little evidence that was seriously offered and may be just an American myth. He did successfully establish executive authority, made good use of a cabinet, and certainly laid concerns about presidential tyranny to rest.
There was no Washington insurance for a second term, but he was re-elected in 1792 and refused to consider a third term four years later. He got us of to a pretty good start.